Prescription For Maine

Posted Aug. 02, 2009, at 6:22 p.m.

It’s a simple mathematical calculation: some 75 million baby boomers now between the ages of 45 and 63 will need varying degrees of medical attention over the next decades. With the pharmaceutical industry developing pills for everything from high cholesterol, high blood pressure and arthritis to anxiety, insomnia and allergies, a high-demand segment of the health care labor market has emerged.

Maine is getting in on the action with its two pharmaceutical colleges, one in Biddeford at the University of New England and the other in Bangor at Husson University.

Pharmacists are now the third-largest group of medical practitioners in the U.S. Staffing shortfalls are forecast until 2020 and Maine has one of the highest ratios of patients to pharmacists in the nation, so the demand is especially acute here. Audrey Brissette of Husson said the need for pharmacists is ranked on a scale of 1 to 5, and Maine is ranked at 4.8.

“The need is extraordinarily high,” she said. Some pharmacy services are not filling shifts, asking pharmacists to work extra hours and even offering generous signing bonuses to pharmacists, especially in rural areas of Maine.

In June, the Accreditation Council on Pharmacy Education granted pre-candidate approval to the program at Husson, and classes begin in September. Husson officials are excited about the new school, Ms. Brissette said, and with good reason. Some 75 percent of accepted applicants are from Maine, she said, and graduates can expect to earn $100,000 when they first enter the job market.

Training pharmacists for lucrative jobs in Maine, Ms. Brissette said, is one answer to the perennial question, “How do we keep our students in state? This is a very viable solution to that.” In fact, she said, pharmacy is one of the few areas in which wages are not lower in Maine than in other, more populous states. Many applicants to the Husson school talk about wanting to care for family and friends in their home communities, which is critically important in Aroostook County and other rural areas. The accreditation body was especially impressed with Husson’s dedication to rural areas, she said.

The four-year program is typically begun after students earn an undergraduate degree. They earn a PharmD degree, or doctorate in pharmacy. Annual tuition at Husson is $25,300.

Husson’s pharmacy school has attracted educators with expertise in alcohol research and wound healing, and national board certification in pharmacotherapy and psychiatric pharmacy. Because of the high demand for pharmacists, operating a pharmacy school is lucrative for colleges and universities, Mr. Brissette said, but the accreditation body was pleased to see this fact did not drive Husson’s decision-making.

Training pharmacists in Maine for Maine is good news, and could be a way to lure new, educated residents here.

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